Corn-maze dust does the Devil’s jig around two pairs of feet. Meena’s toes are brown and slim, probing the earth like curious pitchfork tines. Salome’s feet are pale and sturdy, thumping the ground with her solid heel. Corn pokes the sky. Way up above their heads, there could be astronauts watching the waving stalks from the outermost edges of space. Salome wants to reach up so high that they see her too. She’ll wave to the astronaut lady with the very red hair: her ginger astronaut looks like a superhero and has a laugh like galaxies of light.
Meena would make a fair explorer, Salome knows. High fashion is her game, even in overalls with crusty knees and denim hiding her scraped-up shins. Questions are all the rage these days. So is art. Meena has bushels of both. She has no distain for Salome’s soiled polka-dot dress with the high collar.
“Salome, let’s run away! We could thrive here!” the sprinter shouts and spins in dizzy face-up spirals. Words like ‘thrive’ come out so spontaneous that nobody gives her lip. “You’re so clever, Salome,” she continues, after flopping on the ground. “Make us a cornhusk fire. I’ll roast corn on the coals. We can catch crows and tame them! Can you imagine having your own battalion of crows? And then we could stay here, and sleep with the stars all watching!”
“What about the smoke? They’ll find us. We’d get sick of corn after a few days. And then it’ll frost. This whole field will be bleached and creepy. All the stalks will turn into zombie fingers.” But fearless Meena is up and away, flirting with straw men. If there were zombies, she would make friends with them and lobby for equal rights regardless of race, gender, age, social status, or speed of pulse. It’s all about the content of character, and Meena is contented.
All these years later, she uses her long dark braid to swat flies away down by the swimming pool. Nobody has ever seen a lifeguard so likely to drown a man with just a look. Once a month or so, she thinks of her childhood friend who burned easily in the sun. She wonders where that girl is now.
Salome is not as far away as Meena thinks. The girl repented. Devil dust got her young, so she went to Christ to beg forgiveness. The sins were yet to come, but sins there might be.
Behind convent hedges, she wears white and brown. Black is for women fully fledged.
Salome bends over her evening soup but doesn’t eat. Eating is an earthly pleasure. Pleasure is weakness, and she wants God to see her strong. Strangely, though, this doesn’t make her strong. Bones push up against her skin, becoming a collar around her neck and bars across her chest. Visions come, of fire and of blood. Salome kneels to these sweaty illusions.
Today is a Thursday afternoon in snow. Down at the swimming pool, Meena is a sleek red seal. Between her breasts she has a white plus sign where Salome carries a dead man on a chain. The water is so electric blue that it looks like summer sky over a cornfield. Someone is screaming, and it isn’t in pleasure. A man cradles a dripping infant with pink eyelids and drenched eyelashes. He’s shouting for help.
“Does anyone here know CPR?” yells a woman. All eyes turn to Meena and her glistening brown thighs. She’s already halfway there.
Salome kneels in her husky skin. All her sisters are baking bread this afternoon. She told Ms. Superior that she couldn’t partake, which isn’t a lie, really, is it? Now she worries that a lie by the omission of truth might be a sin. Forgive me, father. Forgive your Salome. She got a bottle of bleach from the cleaning cabinet yesterday. Is that stealing? Tears run down her cheeks. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
Cradling the wet duck-fuzz head, Meena uses two fingers to compress that little chest. One, two, three, she counts quickly to thirty and then seals her lips over the little mouth and nose. Two breaths, just enough to move that tiny chest. The father of the child is sobbing uncontrollably. Meena ignores him.
The bleach is Mr. Clean. Salome takes a swallow to scrub out her guts. She drinks Mr. Clean without a moment to appreciate irony. It burns her like the visions do. She chokes and splutters.
When butterfly lungs flutter, eighty-five birthday cakes practically bake themselves. The little body convulses, and Meena flips it over to drain away milky sputum. Plum lipstick is smeary on puff-pastry cheeks. Those baby-blue eyes are the color of the sky over a corn maze. A wail starts up as the baby squirms, and Meena reunites father and child. She feels like she’s just run a marathon. And won.
Pain curdles Salome’s stomach. She pukes white nothingness on the floor and cleans it up with the rest of the bleach. Nothing truly colorful is allowed in the convent, but the bleach bottle is blue. Salome remembers a wild brown heathen that flew on curious feet. She wonders where that girl is now, and pities her- not one of God’s chosen. There was a day in a maze on the death rattles of summer. That girl was running so sure, and she had followed. Meena must have had a map in her head. When the parents were just on the cusp of calling the cops, the girls emerged victorious. Meena’s father scooped up his little girl, swung her around and held her tight. Salome’s mother didn’t say a word until she was safe in the car.
“We were worried sick,” she said, “You ought to be ashamed. What do you have to say?” Salome looked out the window, then down at her hands.
“I’m sorry,” she said. And meant it.
Willow DeLyon has loved telling stories, as long as she can remember. She grew up in the hills of Massachusetts telling stories to whoever would listen. At seventeen, she left home to travel, and met many people who shared their own stories, and in doing so, helped her along the bumpy road towards adulthood. One thing she learned was the importance of listening to strangers and learning from their joys and sorrows, good choices and regrets. Although she’s not been collecting stories for very long, she hopes to share the right stories with the right people at the right times.